Discussing this with blog pal, Ishaiya I said the part I was going to reference was only a couple of paragraphs long. This turned out to be around 1000 words.
Forgive me. But in my defence, there has to be some context, right?
From the third novel in the Mining of Lif series.
Whenever a volcano threatens to erupt near a major metropolis, a giant lizard runs amok, or a huge chunk of rock threatens to induce a worldwide headache it creates a Situation.
To deal with these larger-than-life events those In Charge require a gathering point to Direct Matters and when it’s all over, give clenched fist salutes or high fives, hug each other, sing national anthems (somehow managing to remember the words) and utter such memorable platitudes as, “Yeah, right on,” or “We did it!” or “Effin A”. Although they never appear to be doing anything, other than swear a lot, sweat profusely and cheer.
A precursor to setting up a Situations Room always seems to involve a group of military-types bursting into a building close to the site of Imminent Destruction. They usually wear protective clothing with the initials T.W.A.T. (Tactical Weapons Advance Team – or something) emblazoned across the front and back. Behind these stalwarts, you will always find someone with rolled-up shirtsleeves and several rolled-up plans, or drawings of the disaster area in question. (Although, when the whole world is at stake, the map is electronic and wall mounted in front of hundreds of computer monitors.)
One of the T.W.A.T.’s sweeps his arm across the first available flat space, (so as to lay out The Plans) invariably destroying priceless pieces of Dresden china, one or two Faberge eggs and a small piece of innocuous paper that has the name of the hero on it or the crucial formula that just happened to be lying around. And the moment someone announces, “Right, let’s see what we are getting ourselves into, shall we?” a lost dog will wander in and go “Woof!”
In the slightly less sophisticated world of the Sueridge Canal garrison, they also had a Situation and a Situations Room. Only, the immediate Situation was inside the Situations Room.
‘Is it poisonous, do you think, Sarge?’ asked Corporal Zimmer, nervously.
‘Fifty-fifty, Corporal. Only way to find out is to milk it, am I right, sir?’
‘That is correct, Sergeant,’ Captain Poohbah agreed.
Corporal Drivel Zimmer had a limited knowledge of dairy-farming but a picture formed inside his head nonetheless. ‘Wouldn’t work, Sarge. Couldn’t get a bucket underneath it.’
The others, gathered around the entrance to the storeroom where the plans of the canal were stored in wax-sealed hollow tubes, turned to stare at their serious-looking colleague.
It was obvious from the amount of dust and cobwebs that this room had not been opened in quite some time. The startled looks from many of the room’s current occupants added to this impression.
The snake, coiled on the table in the centre of the room, reared up sinuously and stared at them. It had an air about it that said, “I was in the middle of lunch. Do you mind?”
The hollow tubes containing the plans of the canal were behind the snake in pigeonholes on the far wall. So were a few pigeons.
‘Reckon it must be poisonous, sir. That’s the longest, thinnest tongue I’ve ever seen on a snake,’ Zimmer offered as a qualifier.
The others turned to stare once again at the snake. The long, thin, pink tongue flicked from side to side for a moment then disappeared inside the snake’s mouth.
‘That, “tongue”, Corporal Zimmer, is, or rather was, a tail,’ said Captain Poohbah.
Zimmer gave his captain a look confirming his belief that all officers were mental.
Poohbah noticed. ‘A rat’s tail, Corporal.’
‘Oh, riiight. Ha-ha. Silly me, sir,’ Zimmer replied, as a metaphorical light of very low wattage began to glow inside his head.
‘Isn’t that a relief model of the canal on the table?’ Poohbah asked.
‘Si, Senor Captain,’ affirmed the wiry, moustachioed individual standing next to Poohbah.
From the amount of droppings, it appeared rats and pigeons had been relieving themselves upon it for some time.
‘It would be very useful for our strategy, wouldn’t you agree, Sergeant?’
‘Certainly help when it comes to troop placement, yes, sir,’ Flogin acknowledged.
‘Well we can’t stand around indefinitely. Has anyone got a suggestion?’ Poohbah asked.
The snake, having swallowed its lunch, began to hiss in a disconcerting manner. Disconcerting for those watching it that is. It was perfectly normal for the snake.
‘Oh, the gods,’ groaned Corporal Zimmer, the colour draining from his face.
‘What is it, man?’ Poohbah asked sharply.
‘It’s ‘im, sir,’ Zimmer exclaimed. ‘We can’t go in there. It’s a sign.’ Zimmer swallowed thickly and edged away from the entrance.
‘Him? Sign? What are you talking about?’
‘The One God’s nemesis: Stan,’ croaked Zimmer.
‘Stan? Who the ‘ell is Stan, Corporal?’ Flogin demanded.
‘Everyone knows who Stan is, Sarge. We learned all about him as kids. The One God’s numero uno pain-in-the-arse. Turned up in that garden as a snake and made Evelyn eat her fellah’s banana. That’s Original Sin, that is, Sarge. We can’t interfere with Stan. It’s an omen.’
‘Corporal get a hold of yourself!’ snapped Poohbah.
‘That’s also a Sin, sir!’ Zimmer blurted. ‘And I intend to always have good eyesight, sir. I can’t go in there with Stan. No way. Sorry, sir. But I just can’t.’
‘It is not a sin to eat bananas. Or any other fruit for that matter. And there is certainly nothing original about it either. People have been eating fruit since before they climbed down from trees. As for “Stan,” I think you will find the name is Sayten. Am I right, Sergeant?’
‘Definitely in the right legless-lizard ballpark, sir.’
The snake decided that this lot were not going to provide it with any sport and slithered off the table and down an old rat hole to digest its meal in peace. There were several squeaks of relief and one or two coos.
Captain Poohbah caught a last glimpse of the snake’s tale. ‘Ah. Seems our little problem has resolved itself. Corporal Partz, please assist Corporal Zimmer to retrieve the table. See if you can clean it up a bit beforehand though. We shall set up a Situations Room in my office. Senor Brunel, you may now enter and retrieve the plans for the canal, I believe.’
Copyright ©Douglas Pearce